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By J.D. O’Gara

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The holiday season is upon us this month, and heartened by the show of community support they got last year, the Franklin Food Elves, numbering 50 this year, are embarking on their “12 Days of Donating Drive” once again to stock the shelves of the Franklin Food Pantry. The charitable community service group aims this year to collect 1,200 pounds of food over the course of 12 days, an amount that would translate to about 900 meals, according to Erin Lynch, Development Director of the Franklin Food Pantry.
“When we were really little, my Mom explained to us that there were people who went to bed hungry, and we wanted to help in some way,” says Food Elves founder Melissa Piana. In 2005, Piana, then a 3rd grader, and her younger brother Cameron decided to hit the streets, wagon in tow, to collect food for the Franklin Food Pantry from neighbors in their neighborhood.
Her Mom, Lisa Piana, liked that the effort “was something they could do on their own with the wagon, and now Melissa’s driving, so they can still do it,” she laughs. Each year, the number of Food Elves has grown, and now, they need a bit more than a wagon to bring the items to the food pantry. The need, however, remains high as the pantry now feeds 600 families, which translates to about 1,500 individuals.
“I think it is difficult to imagine that there are hundreds of people right here in Franklin that need food. We can make a difference in helping them,” says Cameron Piana. “The need for food donations increases during the winter because people need money for heating. When we lost our electricity during the storm, it is a reminder of things we sometimes take for granted.”
Eleven local businesses (up from six last year) have pledged a $200 cash donation to the Franklin Food Pantry if the Food Elves reach their goal this year. That dollar amount translates to an additional 5,500 meals for hungry people in Franklin if the Elves reach their goal.
The Food Elves kicked off the “12 Days of Donating” campaign at the Holiday Stroll, placing red donation bins, adorned with their “Elf” logo, at these participating businesses:
* Berry Insurance, 9 Main St.
* Chestnut Dental Associates, 38 Pond St.
* Dean Bank, 21 Main St.
* Dean College, Campus Center
* DCU, 500 West Central St.
* East Coast Driving School, 25 East Central St.
* Emma’s Quilt Cupboard, 12 Main St.
* Franklin Downtown Partnership Office, 9 East Central St.
* Jane’s Frames, 11 East Central St.
* Murphy Business, 15 East Central St.
* RE/MAX Executive Realty, 445 Franklin Village Dr.
“Dean bank has been supporting the Food Pantry for a very long time,” says Nicole Fortier. “We always put our own bins out, so when the Piana kids were starting the Food Elves, we jumped right in for a great cause.” Fortier, who has volunteered at the Food Pantry, adds, “We have a great customer base. They’re all very giving and supportive of the community.”
Jane Curran, owner of Jane’s Frames, says supporting the Food Pantry is “the right thing to do. There are a lot of people in need this year, even worse than the previous year,” she says. “I also like how (the Food Elves program) engages the rest of the community, so it’s a cooperative effort.”
The businesses participating are part of the Franklin Downtown Partnership.
“It is a good fit for the FDP, since so many businesses want to support the Franklin Food Pantry. We think it is important to bring attention to this important cause and to support the teens who are doing such important community service work in Franklin,” says Lisa Piana, also Executive Director of the FDP.
Last year, The Franklin Food Elves and the Franklin Downtown Partnership exceeded their goals for the ‘12 Days of Donating’ campaign, collecting nearly twice the food and monetary donations they hoped for. Together, the groups donated 2,035 pounds of non-perishable items and $4,266 during the 12-day drive.
One change will be made this year. Elves brought the food to the Piana house last year. “We didn’t realize, though, that we would have a garage full of food,” says Lisa, who says this year, they’re “cutting out the middle man.”
She adds, “It was so wonderful that everybody wanted to make sure they reached their goal,” she says. “They would call and ask, ‘What do you need?’ The first time my kids went out, it was 40 lbs. of food and $40; now it’s over 2,000 lbs., which is really significant.”
“I think it makes people strive to have a goal, says Melissa, who notes that Cameron will take over heading the volunteer effort when she goes to college next year. “I’m so proud of it,” she adds. “I’m really glad that it’s become a town initiative. I want the whole town to feel like we’re helping.”
For more information about the Franklin Food Elves and the “12 Days of Donating” campaign, please contact the Franklin Downtown Partnership at downtown.frankin@yahoo.com or (774) 571-3109. For more information about the Franklin Food Pantry and what items are needed, please contact Development Director Erin Lynch or Operations Director Linda Sottile at (508) 528-3115, or go to their website, www.franklinfoodpantry.org/.

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